Wetland Riders
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Author Robert Fritchey
Author Robert Fritchey

    NEW MOON PRESS - Wetland Riders - PART II


Redfish: Fishing with Edville “Pagaie” Cheramie, pp. 78-87. An actual fishing trip with a veteran Cajun redfisherman. Employing a runaround gill net, this small-scale fishery is clearly sustainable.

     Our tools were simple: a boat and a net. The little boat, Pagaie and I had built together. We made it solely to fish the reds and, with a perfectly flat bottom and a weedless propeller turned by a V-6 that we pulled from a wrecked Buick LeSabre, it was ideally suited to the task. The gill net coiled neatly on the stern was a lattice of diamond-shaped meshes, each of which stretched to 5 ½ inches. The large mesh wouldn’t stop a fish unless it weighed close to five pounds; anything smaller would swim right through it, which suited us just fine.

Louisiana Redfish Fight I, pp. 89-124. Louisiana’s traditional red drum fishery is based upon young fish found in shallow inshore waters but Chef Paul Prudhomme’s blackened redfish recipe allows the development of a new fishery upon the strong-tasting older redfish that school offshore. Media coverage of the large-scale bull-red fishery provides graphic images that would give rise to the myth that the species was “fished into oblivion by commercial fishermen.” GCCA leaders position net fishermen as villains and themselves as saviors, and fan the emotions of sportfishermen who bully traditional harvesters out of the fishery.

     Senate Bill 829, enacted in 1988, made redfish a gamefish for the next three years in Louisiana. After a preliminary draft had easily passed the Senate, Sen. Fritz Windhorst jokingly asked fellow New Orleans Sen. Ben Bagert, author of the bill, if he thought St. Peter would approve.
     Bagert answered, “St. Peter answers to the big man and the big man said we should be good stewards of our resources.”
     “So,” said Windhorst, “we’re doing the Lord’s work.” Bagert, who was dressed totally in white for the occasion, just smiled.
     Several months before, during a late night strategy session among seafood dealers, Ted Loupe, of Gulf Tide Seafood in Leeville, had stated that “St. Peter didn’t just go fishin’ on Saturday. He never won a gold cup. St. Peter used a net, and he fished to make a living.”
     It’s natural that St. Peter would be called up during the recent struggle over redfish in Catholic-dominated South Louisiana. The way things turned out, it’s also lucky he switched to netting for men because, as a fisherman, the good saint would now be having a heck of a time makin’ a livin’.

Houston Serigny, pp. 125-131. Profile of French-speaking Cajun redfisherman, in his own words.

     When we was doin’ it--sellin’ the fish--it was to feed our families. But they got good jobs, they make a lot of money and that’s why they call ‘em “Sports.” They got $25,000, $30,000 boats.
     This is the first winter ever we won’t be able to fish the reds. But we have to watch them come in with ice chests full o’ fish. If they wanted to close the fish, close it for everybody. They’re not more than us, them.
     I’ll tell you, it hurts me. It hurts my boy. It hurts everybody from Lafourche Parish. I mean all the poor people that used to make a livin’, they can’t no mo’. And it’s gonna get worse than that, the way it’s goin’. I don’t see no future where the people can make a livin.’

Louisiana Redfish Blues, pp. 133-142. Deprived of their wintertime staple, coastal fishermen suffer, as do coastal, state and national economies. Seafood dealers in Louisiana--home of the planet’s biggest redfish nursery--begin to import ersatz “redfish” from Latin America. “Conservationists,” meanwhile, prod Legislature to sell Louisiana’s sport fishing “around the world.”

Louisiana Redfish Fight II, pp. 143-174. Gamefish status on redfish is scheduled to “sunset” in 1991, which would allow commercial fishermen back into the fishery. The commercial fishing industry finally tries its hand at educating the media, which weighs in on both sides of the issue. GCCA fans the emotions of envious and obedient sportsmen. Traditional fishermen put up gallant fight but remain locked out of the fishery.

Octave Toups, pp. 175-184. Profile of French-speaking Cajun redfisherman, in his own words.

     I started trammel nettin’ when I was about 35; almost 40 years ago. And since then, I’ve caught a lot of fish. I’ve caught my share of fish.
     And in all that time, I’ve seen it when they didn’t have no fish and I’ve seen it when there was a lot of fish.
But everything that happen, it’s blamed on the fisherman. You know, when there gonna come a red tide--clean out all the fish, you don’t hear nothin’ about that--they don’t blame the red tide.

A big ice come, like in ‘89, clean out everything from Texas to Alabama. It didn’t clean out a little bit, it clean everything. I saw enough fish dead, it was unbelievable, the fish that was dead. But its’ not the ice that kill ‘em, it’s me!

Spotted Seatrout, pp. 185-206. The trout is another bitterly contested species that’s vital to both sport and commercial industries. Tension mounts as numbers of sport and commercial fishermen increase, and the fish’s habitat erodes.
     Pressured by sport fishermen, netters reluctantly adopt larger mesh sizes that don’t stop trout until they’ve spawned at least once, probably twice--an example of how the tension between the two industries--the “two-party system“--is beneficial. But sportsmen don’t know when to quit and, already responsible for 90% of the annual harvest, go after the remaining 10%.

Claude McCall, pp. 207-218. McCall lived to fish, and relocated to Louisiana after his territory in Tampa Bay became overdeveloped. In his own words, he describes the effects of development on coastal fisheries.

     Boca Ciega used to be a big, wide-open bay with a lot of grass flats. Shallow water, grassy bottom. When they got through, all that was gone. They even filled in the main channel. They filled in places that the developers never even bought. It wound up on Boca Ciega that there were just channels between the real estate developments.
     The fishing had to fall off. The fish didn’t have anywhere to go. But, of course, we got the blame.
     I remember the newspaper interviewed one Sport who’d been sold a bill of goods about how good the fishin’ was. He moved down from up North somewhere and then couldn’t catch any fish. He was really comin’ down on the commercial fishermen but never mentioned that his new waterfront home was built on top of what had been some of the best grass flats out there.

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